Tuesday, 4 June 2013


This morning I'm at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Gipsy Lane, helping out with a visit of Year 5 pupils from Sandfield Close Primary. I arrive here hotfoot from BBC Radio Leicester, where I was recording a Thought for the Day earlier this morning (a Bahá'í comment on the upcoming G8 Summit in Northern Ireland).

This is the third of four visits in two days to local places of worship, arranged in association with The Mighty Creatives (a charity based in Leicester's LCB Depot, working across the East Midlands to champion young people's creativity and innovation).

The group is kitted out with cameras of different kinds (for stills and video), digital voice recorders and good old fashioned paper, pens, pencils and crayons. Artwork that the children produce as an outcome of their visits will be on display under the title, "Faith in Neighbours" in the Mezzanine at Curve as part of An Indian Summer later this month.

Our host today, Dipak Kalyan, wastes no time in getting us started on the guided tour. Photography and video recording is not permitted anywhere inside the mandir, so the children get the chance to do more drawing and sketching here than at the other venues.

One interesting topic that comes to the surface this morning is the symbolism of colours. Orange robes on statues of spiritual enlightened figures signify the fire that burns away worldly attachment, for example. We relate this to the bright red jumpers of the children's school uniform. Why is their top red, when other schools have other colours? How does it make Sandfield Close stand out? Does it make them different from other schools which have other colours? Does it make them better than other schools to be red?

A little correspondence that strikes a chord is when Dipak mentions about there being 108 beads on the rosary that devotees use, representing 108 names of God. There's a show on Cartoon Network called Hero 108 that might be said to draw on some themes of spirituality, oneness and the conflict between humankind and nature, which are not out of place with the kind of things we learn in the mandir today.

One of the children asks why we should remove our shoes in the mandir. Dipak starts with the standard answer, about not bringing (literal and metaphorical) dirt from the outside world into a sacred place. then he says that it's also because shoes are normally made of leather, which comes from a dead animal and we shouldn't bring that before the deities. Now, goodness knows how many times I've come into a place of worship and removed my shoes without thinking beyond the first of these reasons, the most obvious (most superficial?) one. It comes as a bit of a shock to realise that I usually wear a leather jacket and have never thought that I should remove it. Nor has anyone ever asked me to remove it in a place of worship either, I should point out. It's an uncomfortable moment of self realisation and as I speak about this, sharing my thoughts and feelings with the group, Bipin leans over and tugs at the shoulder strap of my leather messenger bag. Now that I know, it would be hard to carry on regardless. Later, someone asks about leather belts. I've never seen anyone remove their trouser belt in a place of worship. This reason for removing your shoes (and possibly other leather or suede items) won't apply in every place of worship of course, but still - food for thought I'm sure you'll agree, faithful reader.

This afternoon the group moves on to the Islam Information Centre, Highfield Street. Yesterday morning we were at the Jain Centre, Oxford Street; yesterday afternoon, Leicester Cathedral.

Our friends at BAPS Shri Swaminarayn Mandir were able to squeeze our group in this morning due to a last minute cancellation. Thanks to Narendra and Dipak for doing that.

1 comment:

  1. When God met Moses in the form of a burning Bush, Gods first word to him were 'take off your shoes for the ground you step on is holy'.

    I think when we consider that Temples are the holiest place where we go to worship God then it is natural that we should remove our shoes.